THE CANADIAN PRESS
BURNABY, B.C. — Atiba Harris is not looking to make up for lost time.
The Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder/striker has missed most of the past two MLS seasons with a knee injury. But as the Caps prepare to visit Real Salt Lake on Friday, he only wants to focus on the future.
Harris will suit up in Salt Lake City and has a "reasonably good" chance to play, according to Whitecaps coach Martin Rennie.
"Last year was last year," said Harris, a 27-year-old St. Kitts and Nevis native, after practice Thursday in Burnaby. "The first half of this season has alread passed, so I can’t look back on it. I want to look forward and try to stay positive."
That wasn’t easy to do in Vancouver’s first MLS season. Harris scored two goals and three assists in his first five games of the campaign, but he was sidelined for the season in April.
He took part in the 2012 preseason, but only managed to play in four league games before undergoing arthroscopic surgery in May to repair a torn meniscus ligament. It was his third surgical procedure on the knee in 13 months.
The Whitecaps have played without him since he last suited up May 2 in the first leg of a two-game Canadian championship semifinal against FC Edmonton. He only resumed training within the past two weeks.
Although Harris didn’t play in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, he suited up as a reserve. After everything he’s been through, Harris is just glad to have a chance to get on the pitch again.
"It means everything," he said. "Soccer is my life. It’s what brings a smile to my face so I always want to play.
"Words can’t explain (the joy of returning). It was hard for me being on and off for so long," he added. "It’s been very frustrating at times. Just to be back in this lineup trying to play, I’m really thankful."
Vancouver’s lineup has changed since Harris was last a regular. In the latest move, star striker Eric Hassli was traded to Toronto. Other major additions include the drafting of striker Darren Mattocks, who leads the team in scoring with six goals and the addition of Scottish captain Kenny Miller.
But Harris, now in his seventh season in the North American circuit, is still a unique asset because has something most of Vancouver’s attackers lack: considerable MLS experience. And, for all of the changes that the Whitecaps have made this season, it’s evident that Rennie values him highly.
"We’ve missed him a lot," said Rennie. "A lot of people don’t realize how many injuries we’ve had, but we have missed a lot of the senior players — and Atiba is one of them. He’ll be a good guy to have back in the mix."
The Whitecaps, third in the Western Conference with a 9-6-7 record, are seeking their second straight win following Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the Earthquakes, and have a chance to go unbeaten in three games since tying the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-2 on July 18. Vancouver can also move within three points of second-place Salt Lake (12-7-3), which has two wins in its past three games.
The game serves as a homecoming of sorts for Harris. He began his MLS tenure with Real Salt Lake in 2006.
He has also played for Chivas USA and FC Dallas since turning pro as a 17-year-old trainee with English Premier League side Newcastle United. He also spent time with second-division Spanish teams Cadiz Club and Deporto Linares.
Rennie said the veteran striker will bring many different options as the Whitecaps attempt to build momentum with their new players.
"He can help us defend set plays," said Rennie. "He can attack (on) set plays. He’s good with balls in the box. He’s got good power and pace. So he’s got a good chance (to play)."
One can only wonder how Harris might have done offensively if he had not been sidelined during his hot start with the Whitecaps in 2011. But he is attempting to take his long injury battle in stride.
"Such is life," he said. "Sometimes you have ups and downs. When you’re down, you just have to find a way to pick yourself up again and keep going — keep pushing."
.Notes–Rennie said the Whitecaps could add up to three players before the international transfer window closes Friday. Not all of the players would be classified as internationals. … Midfielder John Thorrington made the trip to Salt Lake after missing the previous five games with a quadriceps injury. He has a strong chance to start. … Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit’s status is questionable after he unexpectedly played a full 90 minutes in Wednesday’s MLS all-star game. He stayed in the game after Sporting Kansas City centre back Aurelien Collin suffered facial fractures in the first half of the 3-2 win over Chelsea of the EPL. … DeMerit re-joined the Whitecaps in Salt Lake on Thursday.